01-23-2013, 10:05 PM
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Ps - you got me curious now!
If you do a search on "drawing extremely cold air into the lungs" then tons of articles come up.
This is copy and pasted from the first article that came up. It's about humans, but the science is still there:
Sometimes the best approach to such a question is to examine what happens when humans are subjected to the harshest of conditions, and then work backwards. On the face of it, things look good! Studies looking at the Inuit peoples inhabiting the Canadian Arctic found that a traditional lifestyle was generally associated with healthy lung function (1). This is not too surprising since the human animal is very good at adapting behaviour to suit it’s particular environment. In hot countries, a good example of this social acclimatization is the "siesta" taken at the hottest part of the day. Indigenous peoples also have the benefit of time-proven clothing developed for the conditions in which they live. The hood of the traditional Inuit parka, for example, normally maintains a cushion of warmer air infront of the face which "conditions" incoming air before it is inhaled, and therefore lessens the cold-shock to the lungs. Of course, such adaptive changes do not arise overnight, but have often been fine-tuned over many generations. Sadly, they can be lost in one lifetime. Over the space of the last 30 years, cultural changes within the Inuit community have been accompanied by a marked decline in chest health, particularly amongst men, and the inhalation of cold air has been cited as a potential risk factor (2). During the now-common operation of high-speed snow-mobiles, cold air is actively forced into the parka hood. This may disrupt or, at worst, completely remove the protective effects of the warm air cushion (2).
A high rate of breathing in a cold environment may also accentuate the risk of sustaining permanent lung damage. Hunters of both Inuit and European descent, who trapped fur in the high arctic earlier this century, and whose physically demanding work would lead to the deep inhalation of extremely cold air, were subsequentl,y found to exhibit signs of premature lung aging (3).
So it seems that at the extremes of the scale at least, prolonged exposure to cold air, particularly whilst undertaking hard aerobic activities, may well have the potential to damage the lungs. This suggestion is supported by several studies of Scandinavian elite cross-country skiers, which found a high incidence of asthma amongst such athletes when compared to the population as a whole (4, 5, 6, 7). This is a highly aerobic sport which may take place in temperatures colder than -15 C. In a two-centre study, the location with the coldest climate had the highest incidence of asthma (7). Perhaps more worrying from a UK perspective are the reports of similar findings amongst a figure-skating population (8) where rink air temperatures are above freezing point. However, pollutants often present in the rink environment may also make a significant contribution to this problem (9).